Triathlon has been a booming industry for over a decade. Malcolm Bradbrook looks at how events are evolving to meet demand.
They say that success breeds success, and with British athletes like Chrissie Wellington, Alistair Brownlee, Tim Don, Helen Jenkins and Jodie Stimpson regularly topping podiums in the last two decades, we have had a lot of role models. It is perhaps little surprise then to see that participation in triathlon has grown by more than 75 per cent in the last 10 years. British Triathlon’s latest figures show that 213,000 people started races in 2017 – a significant growth from the sport’s humble beginnings.
But it’s not just the classic Sprint, Olympic, Middle, and Iron distances that draw in new participants; the sport is continually evolving. Varying distances, challenging locations, duathlons and more have all added to the sport’s popularity.
Brian Adcock, Race Director the Castle Triathlon series, says his organisation prides itself on innovating and offering new options. At the flagship event at Hever Castle this year there will 20 different race formats including the classic sprint, Olympic and half iron distance as well as new offerings such as aqua bike and aquathon. Castle Triathlon started at Kent’s Hever Castle 10 years ago with just two, non-standard distance triathlons and has grown into an international behemoth with events across England and crossing seas into Ireland and France.
He points to mixed relay as one of the events that is driving a lot of success at his events and bringing new people into the sport. It has run for three years at the Lough Cutra Castle in Galway has become Ireland’s national championships. Brian said: “Scheduling is always perceived as a nightmare when you have so many athletes and a real variety of events but we find they slot in really well. It helps when you’ve had a decade’s practice of course.
“It’s really important for us to try new things so that we can open up the sport to many different people.”
Brian adds that some events like the relay and aqua bike are great at keeping injured athletes in the sport. If they suffer a specific injury which prevents them from training and competing at one of the disciplines, they can at least focus on the others and keep racing if they want.
Not everything is a resounding success and Brian says that last year’s Night Swim at Hever is not one to be repeated. “It was terrifying for me as the organiser,” Brian explains. “I envisaged a lovely moonlit night but it was a foul night and you could hardly see your hand in front of your face.
“Everyone got through and was perfectly safe, but with the weather and other logistics like keeping parts of the castle open throughout the night it’s not one to repeat.”
A potential event for the future could be swim run, which has grown in popularity over the years.
Tim Lloyd at Always Aim High Events is one of those responsible for leading a change away from rigid format triathlon. A former GB team ski racer and coach, who also managed the successful Team Saab Salomon adventure racing team, he decided he wanted to combine his passions for tough racing and his homeland in north Wales.
Slateman was launched in 2011 as a tough triathlon which culminated in an off-road run through the slate quarries near Llanberis. Sandman, with a run on the beaches of Anglesey, and Snowman, which concludes with a jaunt up the 872m Moel Siabod in the Snowdonia National Park, quickly followed to make an adventure tri series. From the humble beginnings of just 400 competitors, Slateman peaked at 2000 entrants.
“I loved fell-running and just knew we have some incredible places to do it around north Wales,” Tim explains. But rather than try to force the format of the race into the standard sprint or Olympic distance, Tim let the terrain plan the event and ended up with a 1000m swim, 51km bike and 11km run.
He added: “There was a fair bit of resistance from some of the establishment around triathlon because I was creating something that was different but there seemed to be a demand for it so we haven’t looked back. These aren’t events where you’ll chase a PB because they are so different to anywhere else but the feedback we have received has been amazing.”
Since those early days, Tim has added other distances including the ‘Legend’ which is equivalent to a half iron distance, the ‘Savage’ with a swim of 1,400 metres, a bike of 71 km and a run of 17 km, and a sprint of 400, swim, 20km bike and a run of 6km.
They have also introduced a duathlon for those who don’t fancy a chilly mountain swim to start their racing. He said: “It’s all about listening to what people want. We have created a real festival feel around the events to make it great spectators and offered up different distances so they are more accessible to a variety of people.”
What started as a hobby for Tim has turned into a full-time job heading up a company that now employs eight members of staff and offers five triathlons, four running events, four duathlons, one cycling sportive and an open water swim challenge. Tim’s hope for the future is that traditional ‘rival’ companies will work together to bring a, Adventure series across the UK.
“It would be great to offer up the best that Wales, England and Scotland has to offer,” he adds.
Bringing balance to the sport
Some events have even been launched to balance out the ‘unfairness’ of the traditional distances. Isoman, run from the Arrow Valley Park in the West Midlands claims to balance out the unfairness to swimmers by offering a Swim of seven miles, bike of 61.3 miles and a run of 26.2 miles. Professionals have also seen huge changes to their offering in the past couple of years with the launch of the Triathlon Super League, an initiative from Aussie Olympic and Ironman legend Chris McCormack.
Olympic triathlon had come in for criticism as it allows drafting on the bike, which means that a peloton can form and it is very hard for stronger swimmers and cyclists to get any advantage without being ‘hunted down’ by a large group. This means the sport became dominated by the strongest runners.
Super League is a weekend of events including:
The Triple Mix: A three-round race. In round one athletes will complete a swim-bike-run sequence. In round two athletes run-bike-swim and in round three athletes will bike-swim-run.
Equalizer: A two-part race opening with an individual cycling time trial. Part two is a continuous swim-run-swim-bike-run sequence with athletes starting staggered according to their result in the TT.
Eliminator: A three-round race with a 10-minute break between rounds. Athletes finishing 16th place and above in round one are eliminated. Athletes finishing in 11th place and above in round two are eliminated. The final ten athletes race in round three.
Enduro: A continuous swim-bike-run-swim-bike-run-swim-bike-run.